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O’Neil’s Country Buffet

Lunch with Gail and Jim Sparks 4-30-2016

Route by Jim Sparks

Jim Sparks and I had a wonderful day driving our MX-5s (“Miata” to most) for a lunch at O’Neal’s Country Buffet in Thomasville, GA. Evidently, Jim had invited several First Coast Miata Club members, but I was the only one to accept. It was about twice as long as a normal club ride, so that was probably a factor. They’re loss – it was a fantastic ride! Jim brought his wife Gail with him, and of course, I was joined by my wife, Anna.

Jim’s got a way with planning routes, thanks to many years involvement with motorcycle clubs. No, not the 1% clubs. Not a biker – a motorcyclist. He knows the area like nobody else I’ve met in the 20 years I’ve lived in Jacksonville. I’m always amazed at the countryside Jim takes us through.

So we met yesterday in Whitehouse, FL. and set out just after 9:30 AM, heading west on US-90. A CSX freight train entering Baldwin Yard from Callahan blocked our path, and didn’t look to be in any hurry. Thinking fast, Jim quickly rerouted us adding about 20 miles to his original plan. Beats sitting in the car watching autoracks creep by one by one for 20 minutes!

We saw plenty of wildlife. A lot of road kill with buzzards trying to clean up the mess, but we also got to see two Toms (make turkeys) facing each other off in the middle of the road vying for the rights to a nearby hen. We also got to see a coyote run across the road. I had no idea coyotes were in this part of Georgia. There was an abundance of roadside wildflowers, with buttercups and some sort of blue/purple flower I couldn’t identify.

Lunch was fantastic. Well worth the drive. Cost was moderate, and the food was fresh, even for our late lunch. And why not? There was a farmer’s market right next door! We topped off our lunch with home made Cinnamon rolls, and then headed to the farmers market to walk off our lunch and get some fresh fruit and vegetables to bring home.

We took a similar route home, but took Dixie Road out of Thomasville through the towns of Boston (which looks to have a very quaint historical district) and Dixie, both just south of US Route 84. Worth coming back for, IMHO. Here’s the first part of our return trip:

Return Trip 4-30-2016Return Route by Jim Sparks.

That put us into Welborn, FL for a pitstop. From here, there were a few back roads into Lake City, then down US-90 until we hit I-10 for a quick dash back to Jacksonville to beat the rain. I peeled off I-10 taking FL 23 – the “outer beltway” under construction, to head home. Jim and I exchanged waves and a few friendly chirps from our horns as I peeled off I-10 as he continued on into town.

Anna and I had a lot of fun. Not only all these wonder full back roads, great food, wonderful cars to drive them, but we sincerely enjoyed Gail and Jim’s company on  this trip.

For Sale: Key Imports HO scale Alco C-415

In 1988, Key Imports brought us this Alco C-415 in HO scale. Made by FM models in Korea, it’s been a prized locomotive for Southern Pacific modelers.

I bought a pair of SP Key C-415s when they were new in 1988 for about $260 each. The seller is correct that these are great running units; I’ve used the pair of them for heavy switching in the shows at our club every year since then. They’re a pleasure to operate. – John Rodgers, Southern Pacific Railroad List (Yahoo Group), 14. August 2006

This model is factory painted. I added Kadee #5 couplers, and styrene in the numberboards, but I never got around to putting numbers in it. This model does not have DCC, but should be easy to install. There is no box – it was lost when I moved from California to Florida. I will pack appropriately for shipping.

Asking $250, shipped within the US by USPS Priority Flat Rate. Contact me for PayPal information.

Horn upgrade for the MX-5 (Miata)

The stock horn on the MX-5 has a rather pathetic “meep meep” sound similar to the old Road Runner cartoon character. Now, I’m a fan of the Road Runner – it was a childhood favorite of mine, but on a car? To steal from the old motorcycle maxim, “loud horns save lives.” The louder the better, unless you’re one of those who love to scare people with your locomotive duty air horns. Nathan P3 anyone, for that classic Southern Pacific sound? Not in my neighborhood, please. Clay County Sheriffs are on the lookout, you, for your black F-150 4×4. You know who you are. Cut it out!

These Hella Supertones are a very popular upgrade for MX-5/Miata owners, as well as Subaru tuners.

However, the horn is also used by the car’s alarm system. I didn’t want the Supertones to blast in my neighborhood. Especially not late at night. So the solution is actually quite simple. This article by Tim Moran got me thinking. However, his horns needed a lot more power. The Supertones run just fine on the MX-5s stock 15 Amp circuit, but Tim’s draw quite a bit more. So, I could save one relay.Horn Circuit Diagram

With the ignition off, the horn circuit, including the alarm system, activates the stock horn. With the ignition on, the relay reroutes power to the Supertone horns. Now, most people just replace the stock horn, which is fine. I think I went overboard. The numbers refer to the pin numbers on a Bosch Automotive type relay:

Bosch Automotive Type Relay

The IGN (ignition on) source is the same I used for my Fog Lamp Upgrades for the Mazda MX-5 (Miata).  The instructions are summarized here. The actual connection is shown here:

IGN power source. When the ignition is on, this point has power that can be used to trigger other circuits. This is deep in the fuse box.

Competent Communicator


Left to Right, me, Francine Juhline, Secretary, Jax of All Trades club, and James Fawthrop, VP-Education, Orange Park Toastmasters

Left to Right, myself, Francine Juhlin, Secretary, JAX of All Trades club, and James Fawthrop, VP-Education, Orange Park Toastmasters – Photo courtesy Nathan Scherer

I just gave my 10th speech with Toastmasters International, qualifying as “Competent Communicator.” This is the first major achievement in Toastmasters International, and I did it in just over 6 months.

Well, sort of. I did my first three speeches years ago. But when the JAX of All Trades Toastmaster Club started last June, I joined as a charter member, and started all over again. Good thing, as I’d lost all my skills and gave my first speech with all the rookie mistakes possible. This makes me the first person in JAX of All Trades to achieve “Competent Communicator.”

The 10 speeches concentrate on developing specific competencies, such as speech organization, use of the stage, gestures, and so on. The goal is simply to make you competent – not the next Dalai Lama or Steve Jobs. You’re not going to be a keynote speaker, but are able to overcome the fear of public speaking, and not make a fool of yourself in the process.

I’m also a member of the Orange Park Toastmasters, for whom I am grateful for all the help and encouragement they’ve given me, and for helping out with the JAX of All Trades club. 394CC

Fog Lamp Upgrades for the Mazda MX-5 (Miata)


After I bought the car, I noticed that the fog lamps didn’t have any effect on the lighting pattern. Now, before I go any further, I believe most people have unrealistic expectations of their fog lights. Most people I’ve talked to assume they can be used as supplemental low beam lights. Daniel Stern has an excellent paper regarding fog lamps that I refer people to all the time: What Good are Fog Lamps, Really?

This led me to find one of the fog lamp bulbs was out. Well, I really prefer amber, or selective yellow, fog lamps so I set out to find amber bulbs. The stock light is an H11, so I found this on Amazon and bought it:

When I went to install them, I was surprised to find that the previous owner had installed High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs. Back to the drawing board – or Amazon in this case, and I ordered this:

Installing these I discovered that it wasn’t the bulb that was out, but the ballast. So I replaced the ballast along with the bulbs. Tada! Working amber fog lamps.

For a while.

The fog lamps work in conjunction with the low beam headlamps. If you read the article on fog lamps I referenced above, you’ll note that Mr. Stern advises:

The fog lamps’ job is to show you the edges of the road, the lane markings, and the immediate foreground. When used in combination with the headlamps, good fog lamps weight the overall beam pattern towards the foreground so that even though there may be a relatively high level of upward stray light from the headlamps causing glareback from the fog or falling rain or snow, there will be more foreground light than usual without a corresponding increase in upward stray light, giving back some of the vision you lose to precipitation.

When used without headlamps in conditions of extremely poor visibility due to snow, fog or heavy rain, good fog lamps light the foreground and the road edges only, so you can see your way safely at reduced speeds.

So there is some benefit from allowing the fog lamps to work independently of the low beam headlamps. There are a few conversations (threads) on the forum about making the fog lamps independent. The best option, I thought, was to have them remain switched as normal (on the turn signal stalk), but tied to the ignition rather than the head lamp circuit. The instructions are summarized here.

I like  this, as I can also use the fog lamps as Daytime Running Lights (DRLs), as many cars built recently do today. I do this during dusk to help my conspicuity (the quality or state of being conspicuous). In the bright Florida sun, I find them an annoyance from other drivers, and similarly at night when (low beam) headlights should be used. To those who say this is illegal, I refer you to Florida Statute 316.233(2):

Lighted fog lamps meeting the above requirements may be used with lower headlamp beams as specified in s. 316.237(1)(b).

(Emphasis added) May does not imply that they are required to be used with low beams. It’s permissive but not mandatory. This means they can be used without the low beams, as I’ve wired them.  If you are considering this and your car is registered outside of Florida, I strongly suggest researching the vehicle code for your state.

So here’s the rub: I rarely use my fog lamps. So I have probably less than a handfull of times I have had them on since I installed the new HID bulbs and ballasts. When I go to check my wiring, I have a fog lamp out! Double checking everything, I learn that I have a ballast out. Worse, I tried contacting the seller through Amazon, and received no reply to my inquiry about a warranty replacement. With the relatively high rating and plenty of reviews, and the choice of the previous owner for Xentec’s HID kit, I was pretty confident about this, but after doing a lot more research, Xentec just slaps their label on whatever Chinese made ballasts it can find. Finding a reliable ballast is key to an HID conversion.

An AC (alternating current) ballast is more desireable  than a DC (direct current) ballast, such as the ones Xentec uses. Even among the AC ballasts available, some are better than others, with older designs showing better reliability than new (not surprising). There are many Youtube videos to learn from. This appears to be the closest match to what’s recommended:

We’ll see how it works.

New (to us) Car! 2007 Mazda MX-5 (a.k.a. “Miata”)

car and Anna Crop

It was time to say good bye to the 2000 Chrysler 300M. At 235,000 miles, it had served us well. I got too good at working on it, and it started occupying more time than Anna really wanted. I didn’t mind fixing it. It was a good challenge, but Anna was right. We needed a new(er) car.

Anna got a ride in a friend’s Miata, and really liked it. I was a bit more open – if Anna wanted a Miata, then other roadsters were also fair game. Honda S2000, and the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky were also considered, and showing them to her, Anna liked them as well, but she really liked her friend’s Miata.

After a little looking, this car popped up. I was intrigued by the hard top. Turns out this is a “Power Retractable Hard Top” (PRHT) model- the first one I’d seen on the market (typical review here). Price was reasonable. I showed Anna’s best friend the listing, and she gave her thumbs up, so we went to see it. The dealer had this 2007 Grand Touring with a 6 speed manual, and a 2006 (soft top – 2007 was the first year for the “Power Retractable Hard Top”) with an Automatic transmission. I liked both. The Automatic Transmission was easier to drive, and I was concerned about commuting in stop and go traffic (it can, occasionally, take an hour to drive the 13 miles from home to work or back), but we both really liked the idea of the PRHT.

Both were nice cars, but this car was so much more. The Grand Touring MX-5 is loaded with options. The previous owner had also done some upgrades and taken very good care of the car. There’s a K&N (Apollo) Cold Air Intake and a custom exhaust. Between the two, the sound is phenomenal but not overpowering. Even stock, this little 2 liter 4 cylinder DOHC engine produces more power (166 HP – the Automatic Transmission car gets derated to 163 HP) than my last sports car, a 1983 Toyota Supra (2.8 liter DOHC Inline 6 produced 150 HP). 10% more power, and about 220 lbs (100 Kg) less weight. Win-win. Zoom-zoom!

I realize that the hairy-chested among you will be scoffing and tutting …. You will say “girl’s car” and “gay” and all sorts of other things.

Well, that’s fine. You waste your money on a Mustang or a Ferrari. The fact is that if you want a sports car, the MX-5 is perfect. Nothing on the road will give you better value. Nothing will give you so much fun. The only reason I’m giving it five stars is because I can’t give it 14. – Jeremy Clarkson, The Sunday Times

We’re both very pleased with the car. There’s something very special about driving with the top down at night, and being able to look up and see the stars. But I have some upgrades in mind, so if you’re interested, stay tuned!

Gondola Decals

Southern Pacific GS gondola

Good news for Southern Pacific modelers! Protocraft has reversed it’s policy and started offering decals in HO scale. The company had previously stated it was going to stay in the O-scale market, and leave the HO market to others.

Included in this change of heart, there are several decals for Southern Pacific GS Gondolas.

Protocraft Decals for G-50-15/-22
Decals for the G-50-15/-22 (i.e. Red Caboose steel sided GS gondola)

Protocraft Decals for G-50-20/-23 composite Sugar Beet gondola
Decals for the G-50-20/-23 composite side GS gondola (i.e. Red Caboose composite sided GS gondola, with or without beet rack extensions

You can see the entire line of HO decals from Protocraft at this link.

Two Updates

Scalecoat Paint

The big news today is that Minute Man Hobbies announced today on it’s Facebook Page that it has bought the Scalecoat paint line from Weaver Models. As I reported in my last blog, Joe Hayter announced his retirement and closing of Weaver Models earlier this month. This would have been a big blow to the builders in our hobby. I wish them nothing but continued success with this and their other products.

Although Joe Hayter’s retirement sparked my own retirement from model building, the continued availability of Scalecoat Paint does not change my decision to retire. I will be selling off untouched kits and R-T-R models (such as my Genesis cabooses, Athearn SD45T-2s, MTH Daylight Passenger Cars and other models) and my brass models (both steam and diesel). As I’ve said, without a layout to run my trains on, there’s really no reason to build, and they are just cluttering up my home. I will continue in the hobby as a historical researcher of California railroads and the Southern Pacific in particular, although all I can do is parrot what others have said. I have yet to decide the vehicle I will use to dispose of my collection. Ebay is an option, but so are the many groups on Yahoo and Facebook.

GS Gondola Decals

From some e-mails posted to the Steam Era Freight Car List, it seems Tim O’Connor has convinced Hubert Mask of Mask Island Decals to produce decals for the Southern Pacific GS (Drop Bottom) Decals. These are decals I’d worked on producing for myself, but I ran into a lot of problems trying to avoid spending a lot of money to produce the decals myself.

I had prepared artwork for the SP G-50-9/10/11/12 classes (the Ulrich Drop Bottom Gondola) from as-built through the mid 1950s paint schemes, as well as the composite gondolas (G-50-20 and G-50-23 class) and  the steel sided G-50-15 and G-50-18 class. Tim O’Connor had provided Hubert some reference material. I’ve made my artwork available to Hubert for free. He’s free to go forward with the project as he sees fit, but he’s under no obligation to use my artwork. I have gone through a lot of work, from research, buying and learning Adobe Illustrator, to having a final product that I could print if I had the right kind of printer. I don’t, so the option is to convert my OkiData 3200N to print white decals (about a $600 conversion process that Charles Hostetler presented at Cocoa Beach, and will presumably make public next year), or have them commercially printed at $35-$40 a sheet from Kadee or Rail Graphics.

Some modeling notes:

For composite cars (all Sugar Beets were shipped in composite side cars), the Detail Associates (OOP) and Red Caboose cars build to G-50-23 class. The G-50-20 have “Reverse Dreadnaught Ends” that can be modeled by reversing the ends, and modifying the top lip so that it sticks out rather than in. I suggest shaving off the top lip from the end casting (it’s separate on both models), and using thin styrene for the lip.

The Detail Associates (OOP) and Red Caboose steel sided drop bottom gondola with the dreadnaught ends (RC-5000)represents the G-50-18 class. If you substitute the plate ends [Detail Associates FC 6222, or the “UP End” Red Caboose kit (RC-5020)], you will have an accurate G-50-15 class.

Thanks for reading this!

And Another One Bites the Dust

Joe Hayter announced his retirement and closing of Weaver Models, a major player in O-scale model railroading, and producer of Scalecoat Paint.

While I generally prefer other paints for plastic models, Scalecoat is my preferred paint for brass models. It’s a traditional solvent based paint that works very well. Some other paints are finer, and don’t block up details quite as much (although Scalecoat is still very good in this regard), but they are more finicky, especially with regard to humidity, and humidity is a big deal here in tropical Northeast Florida. Scalecoat isn’t negatively effected by our humidity. It’s a wonderful backup plan. Rather, was a wonderful backup plan.

However, the announcement has hit me very hard, and gotten me to think.

What’s the point?

I’m a model builder. I don’t have a layout to run my trains, although some day I’d like to have one. I have plans of building an out-building  on my property following Southern Pacific Common Standard plans for a trackside maintenance building, and building a layout that will depict the Southern Pacific Coast Line between San Luis Obispo and Santa Margarita inside. I keep putting those plans off every year.

There’s a local club, but they only have a modular layout, and don’t maintain the layout so that fine scale models can be operated. I was a member for a few years, but became frustrated when my models wouldn’t tolerate the misaligned joints between modules. Of course, this is my problem, and not theirs, as their equipment with oversize couplers and oversize wheels didn’t exhibit any problems.

So with no place to run my models, the hobby has become one of simply building models for that future layout I keep putting off. The problem is, it’s getting harder and harder to build models anymore.

While we have a plethora of models today – more than I’d ever imagined – they are, for the most part, all “ready to run.” The number of kits available to build has shrunk dramatically. It’s getting harder and harder to find things to build, and even harder to find detail parts, paint, and decals to work with.

The hobby is going in one direction, while I’ve been forced in the opposite. If this were a marriage, divorce would be on the table for discussion. Unfortunately, the manufacturers who supply this hobby aren’t listening. They’re arguing, and for the most part, they’re right. Most model railroaders embrace ready to run models as both “good enough,” and a way to spend more of their hobby time on other activities, such as building layouts or running trains.

As with my local model railroad club, the problem isn’t them – it’s me.

So, what now? I think I’m going to retire (from the hobby), too.

White Decals, Part 2


Well, I know this is hard to see, but that’s part of the problem If we had white lettering on a white background, it should be invisible, but it’s not.

Where the embossing powder is thin enough to reveal print detail, it’s thin enough the black ink shines through. Where it’s thick enough to be opaque, it clumps together to obliterate the lettering. It’s tough to get even coverage of the embossing powder. There are places on the decal that there’s embossing powder where there was no ink that I thought the heat gun would blow off.

The Testors decal film reminds me of Champ decals: very thick.

Time to regroup. Investigate refining the method and materials, and talk to others who’ve been successful. There are other options noted in Part 1 I need to investigate. There’s a clinic at next weekend’s Prototype Rails on printing white decals with a laser printer that I hope to learn more.

The artwork took me a long time to create. More than I bargained for, but I won’t give up and let it go to waste!